Top medical minds gather to address diabetes threat


Johannesburg, 7 May24: South Africa has seen the quickest and most alarming rise of diabetes on the continent; from an estimated 1,9 million people living with the condition in 2011 to 4,2 million by 2021 – with 7,5 million predicted to be afflicted by 20451. South Africa also has the fastest rising prevalence on the continent with an estimated 20 % of the adult population either diabetic or pre-diabetic1. Globally, diabetes prevalence is predicted to rise by 46 % between 2019 and 20452. It currently stands at some 537 million people worldwide1.

 This emerged at the recently held annual Sanofi medical meeting, the Cardio-Metabolic Axis Forum from April 19th-21st in Cape Town. This was a meeting of leading endocrinologists, specialist physicians, nephrologists, diabetes-treating doctors, academics and Patient Advocacy Groups (PAGs).

 Speaking at the conference, specialist physician and endocrinologist, Dr Landi Lombard – former editor of the South Africa Journal of Diabetes and Vascular Disease – told delegates that the risk of death associated with diabetes in cardiovascular conditions is more than twice that of people with non-diabetes, while in all-cause mortality, it’s just under twice that of a person living without diabetes. Of the estimated 537 million people living with diabetes globally, only about half are diagnosed, of whom 25 % receive care, 12,5 % achieve treatment targets, and 6 % live a life free of diabetes-related complications1.

 Dr Lombard said that the pandemic is being driven by poor lifestyle choices and diet, lack of exercise and widespread obesity in the population, so better healthcare worker communication and education of patients is vital to stem the tide of diabetes.

 Professor Robert Ritzel of the Department of Endocrinology, Diabetology and Angiology at Schwabing Hospital in Munich, said the Pacific Islands and the Middle East led the world with diabetes prevalence at between 25 % and 40 %. He said what precipitated a surge in diabetes was the speed at which a nation changed from a traditional to a modern lifestyle. When this happened within a few years, diabetes prevalence was likely to range between 20 % and 40 %. However, when change occurred over many generations, it gave epidemiologists and clinicians time to adapt.

 Lombard said one of the biggest challenges was what diabetologists called ‘therapeutic inertia” which contributes to a patient living with sub-optimal blood sugar control for many years. This term embraced physician, patient and healthcare system factors, patient injection related factors, time and resource constraints among physicians and the lack of a proper healthcare system plan. He said that in people with Type 2 diabetes, the median time it takes for the disease to intensify while taking one or more anti-diabetic drugs is 2,9 years. However, the use of an injectable slowed intensification down to 7,2 years or more.

 Reasons for failure to intensify treatment or progress to injectable therapies varied between specialist and primary care physicians but were mainly because of a patient fear of injection, too many injections, perceptions of this being a ‘last resort’ treatment, fear of weight gain, fear of low blood sugar, and poor communication with patients.

 Lombard said even 1 year of poor blood sugar control in people with Type 2 diabetes could result in an increase in the cumulative incidence of kidney disease of 18 %, neuropathy of 8 %, retinopathy of 7 % and a significantly increased risk of heart attack (67 %), heart failure (64 %), stroke (51 %) and composite cardiovascular events (62 %).

 Professor Naomi ‘Dinky’ Levitt, former Head of Endocrinology and Diabetic Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital and Director of the Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa, highlighted gestational diabetes as one of the greatest challenges.

 Described as the “doyenne” of endocrinology in South Africa (SA), Levitt said one third of women who have gestational diabetes go on to develop diabetes within 6 years of giving birth, so post-partum intervention is crucial.

 According to Levitt, lifestyle interventions had about a 20 % positive effect, mainly because new mothers were pulled in all directions by family, the baby, husband, and domestic and work needs.

 She said that with 31,4 % of SA women estimated to have developed gestational diabetes, it would be ideal to screen all pregnant women at 24 and 28 weeks. However, this would collapse the healthcare system because of the healthcare staffing demands, so the alternative was to focus on risk factors such as being over 30 years old or being overweight.

 She said that focusing on women with gestational diabetes would have the greatest impact on the pandemic, as treatment can help avoid pre-eclampsia and improve foetal development, resulting in fewer admissions to the neonatal ICU.

 Speaking on behalf of Sanofi the conference sponsor, Dr Asafika Mbangata said: “Sanofi puts patients first and the aim of the conference was to empower stakeholders with the right information to help make critical care decisions for patients by sharing the latest data on advancements in treatments and technologies, along with insights into global and local policy changes impacting diabetes care.”

 “As we chase the miracles of science to improve people’s lives, we know we cannot shape the future of diabetes management without partnerships with healthcare professionals and other stakeholders. Collaboration across all medical disciplines is essential if we are to overcome this pandemic, and we’re hopeful the conference opened the door to future robust collaborative actions that improve patient outcomes,” concluded Dr Mbangata.